A/N: My muse tells me it’s high time I got Bobby out of the hospital and started dealing with the emotional traumas. So here we go…

A month later

Bobby sat in silence by the open window, his face slightly raised to the cool breeze that was blowing. Right at that moment, he was alone. Alex was due to arrive any time, but right then he was alone. There was a time when he might have taken comfort in solitude, but not anymore. Now, he craved company more than he was capable of expressing.

The last month had been hard on him, harder than he had ever imagined life could be. It seemed that even his childhood and teen years spent trying to anticipate his mother’s next departure from reality couldn’t compare to this.

He said nothing, though. When Alex was with him… or even Deakins, or Logan… or anyone who came to see him, for that matter… he said nothing of the loneliness that was eating away at his soul. A deep part of him wanted to beg them not to leave him when visiting hours ended, but he said nothing.

Stoic. Silent. Stupid.

He shifted away from the window abruptly and got slowly to his feet, making his way carefully back to his bed. His doctor had found a specialist, a cosmetic surgeon who was skilled enough to surgically open his eyes, but that specialist would not be available for another three weeks. That was fine, his doctor had assured him. It would just allow for that much more recovery time.

Bobby had been less enthusiastic about the wait. The delay meant that even though the hospital was ready to discharge him, he still required around the clock care, and help in achieving the most basic of tasks, like feeding himself.

More than that, though, on a deeper level, he feared that when the bandages did finally come off his eyes, he would find himself to be permanently blinded.

Between his sightless eyes and his broken hands, Bobby had found himself to be rendered almost completely helpless. It was a sickening feeling, and he was terrified that it was a condition that could become permanent.

Bobby was hurting, and he was frightened. It was as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Unwittingly, Bobby found himself once more recalling the moments of his awakening after suffering respiratory failure, shortly after the encouraging visit from Maggie Coulter.

He remembered with acute misery waking up to find a tube down his throat. He remembered waking up to find the ability to speak had been cruelly taken from him, leaving him unable to communicate with anyone in any way. It had very nearly been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, being rendered so utterly and completely helpless. No sight, no touch, and then no voice. In fact, the only thing that had kept him from sliding into oblivion right then and there had been Elliot Stabler.

With a fresh wave of gratitude, Bobby recalled once more that moment of awakening.

He had been confused… scared… hurting. Before he’d had the chance to panic, though, there was a voice speaking to him, demanding his attention with an authority that he could not ignore. Slowly, his distress faded, and he finally recognised the voice as belonging to Elliot Stabler.

“Calm down, Bobby,” he’d said firmly. “You’ve gotta stay calm. Now, I know you can’t talk, and that you must be pretty frightened, so I want you to listen to me. Listen to my voice, okay? I’ll tell you what’s happened, but you’ve gotta stay calm, ‘cause if you panic, you’ll have that doctor back in here to sedate you again.”

Bobby answered Elliot’s words with absolute silence.

“Okay,” Elliot murmured, noting that Bobby was making a conscious effort to stay calm and still. “Now, before I tell you anything, I’m gonna say this. Eames and Logan are both okay. There was no last damage. Okay?”

Bobby felt himself tense despite Elliot’s reassurances. The SVU detective went on quickly, aware of Bobby’s reaction.

“First of all, the reason you can’t talk is because you went into respiratory arrest, and they had to put a tube down your throat to get you breathing again. It’s only temporary, though, until your lungs are strong enough to cope.

“Secondly, Chops Cozza got into the hospital. He shoved Eames down the stairs, but she’s okay. No broken bones, or anything like that. She just has a lot of bruises, a concussion and a very pissed off attitude. She was not very happy about being admitted to hospital, even just overnight.”

If Bobby could have smiled, he would have. That was his Alex. Cozza could have shot her, and she wouldn’t have let it stop her. Elliot continued to speak, sensing the way Bobby had relaxed just slightly. He knew he’d said the right thing.

“Logan’s a little worse for wear. Cozza went through him like a locomotive… Broke the guy’s wrist, and one of his ribs, and shot him in the shoulder. He’s gonna be sore for a while, but he’ll be okay as well. As for you… Bobby, Cozza managed to pull the plug on your ventilator. It put you into cardiac arrest, but the doctors were fast and they revived you straight away. There wasn’t any damage done.”

Bobby lay still, and Elliot noticed he’d tensed up again. He went on, hoping his next piece of news would ease his colleague’s mind somewhat.

“I’ve got something else to tell you, Bobby. I don’t know whether you’re going to be happy about this or not, but Cozza is dead. He pulled a gun on Olivia as he was trying to make a break for it, and she shot him dead. He’s never going to be able to hurt you or anyone else ever again.”

Even if he had been able to speak, Bobby had no words to express his gratitude and relief for that information, although his relief was tempered by the knowledge that Alex and Mike had both been hurt.

He had fully expected Elliot to abandon him at that point, to just walk out and leave him alone once more. It hadn’t happened. In what had perhaps been the one action that had kept Bobby from tipping over the edge of outright panic, Elliot had then picked up Moby Dick off the bedside table, found where Alex had been up to, and started reading.

The gesture had been unexpected, and more welcome than was within Bobby’s power to express. Slowly, the lilting tone of Elliot’s voice calmed and soothed his frayed nerves. He had eventually fallen asleep again to the sound of Elliot describing Ishmael’s first impressions of Captain Ahab.

Over the next seventy-two hours, Bobby’s waking moments had been filled with the sound of various people, some more than a little unexpected, taking it in turns to read to him. First Elliot, then Olivia. Next was Fin Tutuola, and then John Munch. And if he had been surprised to have Deakins sitting there reading to him, he was downright stunned when Ron Carver came in and took a shift.

A small smile passed fleetingly over Bobby’s face at the memory. While he had enjoyed listening to each visitor read to him, being able to listen to Carver’s silken voice weave the tale and bring it to life in his mind’s eye had truly been a treat.

The tube had come out nearly four days after he’d gone into respiratory arrest. His breathing was perhaps a little shallower than his doctor liked, but he was breathing on his own. His relief at having vocal ability restored to him was enormous, and kept him buoyed and almost happy… until it suddenly occurred to him to ask where Danny was.

By that time, Alex had returned to his side on an almost twenty-four hour basis, foo-fooing his concerns about her injuries. Just bruises, she’d insisted. No more, no less. She was fine, and he wasn’t to worry himself about her.

At first, Alex had tried to deflect his questions about Danny but eventually, with extreme reluctance, she’d told him that Danny had had to return home, under duress from his boss, and didn’t know when he would be back.

Bobby had taken the news hard. He had trusted his cousin to stay with him, and to learn he had bolted back home without even staying long enough to tell him directly stung badly.

The rest of that month had run to a similar course, jerking him up and down like an emotional yo-yo. At some point, he couldn’t remember what, Don Cragen and Casey Novak had come in to speak to him. Deakins and Logan had been there at the time, having talked Alex into going home to get some rest. Not that Logan was much better off, Bobby remembered thinking. Every time the guy moved, he grunted in pain.

Casey had gone on to explain that Simon Matic had taken a plea bargain for the assault, rape and attempted murder, guaranteeing him life in prison. Bobby had listened in absolute silence. He was relieved to know that Matic would be locked away permanently, but at the same time he couldn’t help feeling cheated. He said nothing, though, waiting to hear about his brother.

He recalled with a fresh and acute pain the words that Cragen had spoken to him. Richie had suffered a major psychotic break in prison, and three separate and independent assessments had each come to the same conclusion; severe paranoid schizophrenia. As soon as arrangements could be made, Richie would be institutionalised indefinitely by direct court order.

So Cozza was dead, Matic was going to prison for life after negotiating a deal to keep the death penalty off the table, and Richie was likely to spend the rest of his life in a high security psychiatric institute.

Bobby had been unreachable for the rest of the day while he struggled to come to grips with the realisation that he would never face his attackers in court. It hurt far more than he had ever imagined it might, and even after hours of wrestling with it in his mind, and trying to justify the end result he still couldn’t get his head around it. Even now, when he tried to reconcile everything, it quickly became too much, and he was forced to rapidly redirect his chain of thought.

He didn’t want to have to think about it, talk about it or even remember it. Not any of it. It just hurt too damned much.

And yet, despite his best efforts, he was constantly faced with reminders of his bleak situation. One such reminder was due to arrive at any moment.

Granted, that wasn’t Alex’s fault. But, inadvertently, she still served as a reminder to him of all that had been so cruelly stripped away from him. His belongings… His home… His independence.

Alex was coming today to take him home. After just over a month of intensive hospital care he knew he should have been happy to leave the hospital, but any happiness or relief he may have felt was severely dampened by the knowledge that the home he was going to was not his own.

His own apartment had been thoroughly cleaned, and he didn’t doubt that assurance from Mack Taylor, but the hard truth was that he didn’t think he would ever be able to set foot in that place again.

His biggest problem right then lay in the fact that he was not likely to receive any sort of financial compensation for what he’d been through. He knew for a fact that Richie had no money hidden away anywhere.

Cozza more than likely had nothing. He’d spent most of his time as a lackey to the biggest crime families of New York, and had been caught for murder before he’d been able to inherit the empire he’d spent so much time manipulating so many people for. The odds that he had anything worth suing for were laughable.

Out of his three attackers, Simon Matic was the only one that Bobby suspected might have any significant amount of money stashed away somewhere. If he did, though, Bobby doubted he would ever have the chance to see any of it. Wherever Matic had his money stashed, if indeed he did have anything, it was probably hidden away somewhere untouchable.

The only money that would possibly be coming to him would be from the sale of his apartment, and that was going to take a lot of time. Bobby was under no illusions that his apartment would be an easy sell. No one was going to be eager to buy an apartment where a cop had been violently assaulted and raped. So yes, it was going to take time.

And meanwhile, between the money going to pay for his mother’s ongoing care at Carmel Ridge, and the money now going to pay for his own with a home care nurse, he couldn’t afford to rent a new place, let alone buy one.

That was where Alex had more or less come to his rescue. He didn’t remember exactly when he had voiced his worries about where he would go after leaving hospital, or even whom he had voiced those worries to, but a bit less than a week ago, Alex had suddenly announced that he would be coming to live with her. Though nothing had been said, going by Mike’s stoic silence and the strange noises that were coming from Deakins, Bobby suspected it had been a hotly debated subject. He wasn’t the least bit surprised that Alex had come out on top.

She hadn’t asked him whether he was okay with the arrangement. She had simply told him that that was what was happening. He had to admit he’d been annoyed at first, but given time to consider his situation, in the end he’d had to concede. It was a logical solution and, after all, where else did he have to go? There was nowhere he could go, and that was the miserable truth.

He had queried whether she had the room for him, pointing out that her apartment was only a single bedroom apartment. She, in turn, had reminded him that it was, in fact, a two bedroom apartment, and that she’d used the second bedroom as storage space for the entire time she’d lived there. She had told him that a bunch of guys from Major Case and SVU had gotten together and helped her to completely clean the room out. A king sized bed had been procured from somewhere… from someone’s cousin’s brother’s friend’s something or other… dismantled, and put together again inside the room. The room had then been furnished simply with a chest of drawers and a bedside table, and the closet had been completely emptied.

Not that he had anything to fill it with, Bobby reflected glumly. All but a select few items of clothing had been ruined by Matic and Cozza, and he had very little left to fill a chest of drawers, let alone a closet.

He actually felt embarrassed that Alex had gone to such lengths for him, but when he’d tried to say so, she had simply hugged him and pointed out that he would have done exactly the same for her, had their situations been reversed. It was with some effort that he’d avoided pointing out that she had family to look after her, and he wouldn’t have needed to go to those lengths.

She was right, though, he thought in retrospect. He would have done anything for her had she been the one to be hurt. And so, he’d accepted her kindness and generosity with good grace. Now, he awaited her arrival with a mixture of eagerness and anxiety. Eager to be out of the hospital, but filled with anxiety at what awaited him beyond those sanctuary walls.

“Hey, you. Still in bed? I half expected to find you waiting for me in the car park.”

Bobby smiled faintly in token appreciation of his partner’s humour as she walked into his room. He felt less like smiling lately, but still tried to smile at her gentle teasing.

“I’m dressed,” he admitted. “Just need help… with my shoes.”

She didn’t bother suggesting that he just put on the slippers that she had bought for him two weeks ago, when he’d finally been able to get up and start moving around. It was going to be hard enough on him that he would have to leave the hospital in a wheelchair. She had no intention of forcing him to suffer any further indignities, no matter how trivial they might have appeared to be.

“Fair enough,” she agreed aloud. “Are you ready to go?”

Bobby hesitated in answering.

“There aren’t a lot of people here, are there?”

Alex smiled faintly. She and Captain Deakins had anticipated that Bobby would want a quiet and discreet exit from the hospital. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t want any of his colleagues around, than that he simply wanted to avoid the journalists who had descended on the story of his assault in an absolute frenzy, once the story had actually been released to the media. With that in mind, it had been ‘leaked’ to various newspapers and media outlets that Bobby was due to be released from the hospital a full three days later than he actually was in an effort to throw them off. It seemed to have worked, too. When she’d arrived ten minutes ago, there were no journalists anywhere in sight.

“No journalists to be seen,” she promised him. “And it’s just Captain Deakins, Captain Cragen, Elliot and Olivia who are out there. That’s all, I promise.”

Bobby sighed faintly with relief.

“Okay,” he murmured. “I guess I’m ready, then.”

“It’s going to be okay, Bobby,” Alex reassured him as he allowed her to put slip his shoes onto his feet and lace them up. “A few more weeks, and you’ll be able to have that last operation so you can see again, and in the meantime you’ve got me to wait on you hand and foot. What more could a guy ask for?”

Bobby shifted, looking slightly embarrassed.

“I… I don’t want you to do that, Alex. You… You don’t have to do that.”

“I know I don’t have to,” she told him firmly. “But I want to. You’re my partner, Bobby, and you’re my best friend. Let me take care of you, okay?”

It took more than a little bit of effort for Bobby not to grimace at her words. He understood what she meant, but that didn’t make the reality any less harsh. The fact that he needed taking care of at all hurt badly, not to mention the level of humility he’d had to endure so far, and would have to continue to endure.

No one who came to see him seemed to understand the embarrassment he suffered everyday in needing someone to feed him, because his hands were still unusable. No one seemed to understand his embarrassment at having to lie there while a nurse stripped him off and bathed him with a sponge, or took him into the shower and washed him. Apparently, according to Logan and various other male colleagues, he was supposed to enjoy that.

Worst of all, no one seemed to understand his utter humiliation that he needed assistance for a task as basic as using the toilet.

As much as he wanted his eyesight back, he wanted the use of his hands back so much more.

Now, he was going home to Alex’s apartment, being passed from the care of the hospital into her care, and into that of a home care nurse. He was going from being taken care of like a helpless baby in the hospital, to being taken care of like a helpless baby in another person’s home.

He hated it, more than he could ever express.

Alex finished tying the laces on his shoes, and gently took his arm as he stood up. He didn’t object, although she couldn’t miss the way he tensed slightly at her touch. She didn’t let go, though, until he was safely seated in the waiting wheelchair.

She had been warned by both Bobby’s doctor and the psychiatrist in whose care he’d been placed not to expect perfect acquiescence or cooperation from him. There were going to be difficult times ahead, and a lot of them. He was still hurting, and there was still so much from the attack that he had yet to face, things that he might not have even remembered yet. She had also been warned that she needed to be conscious of his obvious frustration at his physical helplessness, that he might, at times, lash out at her verbally and say things he didn’t really mean.

Alex bit back a sigh. She knew all of that already. It wasn’t anything she needed to be reminded of by any shrink. She knew Bobby would be difficult to cope with, that his moods were likely to swing up and down wildly, and that there were times when he would be downright intolerable. She didn’t need some professional busybody to remind her that taking Bobby into her care like this was a daunting, terrifying prospect.

In her opinion, the bottom line was that there had been no other option. Of course, that hadn’t stopped Deakins from arguing the point with her. He thought it was a bad idea, and he’d continued to argue until she’d rounded on him and asked what brilliant solution he had in mind, and whether he was planning on taking Bobby in himself.

That had brought Deakins up short. He knew as well as she did that Bobby had nowhere else to go, and no one else to turn to. He couldn’t stay in the hospital indefinitely, but at the same time, where was he supposed to go? He had to be somewhere that he could be properly looked after, and there were simply no other options.

Still Deakins had expressed misgivings, though, until a week ago. A week ago, Alex’s parents returned from their vacation, and had quickly turned up at the hospital after hearing from Philip about what had happened.

A small smile touched Alex’s lips as she remembered her parents’ arrival at Bobby’s hospital room when she had been in the middle of yet another argument with Deakins over the wisdom of her having Bobby in her apartment. Deakins had told John Eames the basics, assuming John would side with him. Alex recalled the exchange that had resulted with a smug satisfaction that, even now, she couldn’t completely hide.

Let me get this straight,” John had said after Deakins had quickly explained to him a heavily biased version of what was going on. “Bobby is due to be discharged from the hospital in about a week, but he has nowhere to go, and he’s going to need almost around the clock care. My little girl here has offered her home to him until he can find somewhere new to live, and you think that’s a bad idea, Jim?”

Deakins had looked more than a little put out, much to Alex’s satisfaction.

John, Alex needs to understand what she’s taking on here…”

I think she probably already has a pretty good idea of that, Jim. Bobby is her partner and I’ve no doubt he’d do the same for her. As for shouldering the responsibility alone… Well, she’s not alone, is she? She has me and her mother, and her brother and sister to help her, and to help Bobby. That boy is as much a part of our family now as Alex is, Jim, and we will take care of him, I promise you that.”

Deakins had been flummoxed into silence and was left standing there in the hallway, still confounded, while Alex took her parents in to visit with her partner. She had no words to express the gratitude she felt for their support, both of her and of Bobby. She would always be grateful that they seemed to understand that she needed to be able to take care of Bobby, that there was no one else who could fill that responsibility. That he trusted no one else to do that for him. And in the end, that was the bottom line. Bobby trusted her alone.

She wheeled him carefully out of the room, taking care not to move too quickly, or to make any sudden turns. His blindness had had the unfortunate side effect of causing him to suffer sporadic spells of vertigo, usually brought on when he tried to do anything too quickly.

Deakins, Cragen, Olivia and Elliot were waiting a little ways down the corridor, and they all stood up as Alex guided the wheelchair towards them.

“Finally getting out of here, huh?” Olivia said, trying to keep her voice cheerful, without overdoing it.

“Yeah,” Bobby murmured, sounding less than enthusiastic.

“Just think,” Elliot said. “You can look forward to a home-cooked meal tonight. Not the usual hospital slop.”

Bobby didn’t respond to that, and so Alex responded for him.

“I’ll say. Last I heard, Dad was cooking up a storm.”

Bobby’s head turned slightly.

“I don’t want anyone going to extra trouble for me. I mean… more than they already have.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Bobby,” Deakins told him with a wry smile. “You ought to know Alex’s dad when it comes to cooking.”

Alex laughed softly. “The more people he gets to cook for, the happier he is. And he told me that there was no way that he was letting Bobby settle for tinned soup or a TV dinner on his first night out of the hospital.”

Again, Bobby said nothing, and Alex could sense his embarrassment at the fuss that was being made of him. He didn’t like the attention, he never had.

“Listen, Bobby,” Elliot told him quietly as they reached the lifts, “’Liv and I won’t be able to come around to see you so often now, but if you feel like talking at all, about anything, just call us. Okay? Any time, pal, don’t think twice about it. You’ve got our numbers.”

Bobby nodded.

“Thanks,” he mumbled. Elliot laid a hand gently on his shoulder, and squeezed reassuringly.

“Any time, Bobby,” he reiterated. “Day or night, I don’t care. I mean that.”

Olivia caught the incredulous looks that both Deakins and Cragen were throwing at her and Elliot, and she smiled reassuringly at them. Elliot’s gesture was genuine. He wanted Bobby to know that he could call him, whenever he wanted. He wanted Bobby to know that there were people he could turn to, who wouldn’t turn their backs on him.

They reached the main entrance of the hospital and, as promised, there was not a single journalist in sight. Alex favoured Deakins with a grateful look before setting the brakes on the wheelchair and helping Bobby to get up.

“The car’s right here,” she murmured, nodding in acknowledgement to Olivia as she held the door of the SUV open to ensure it didn’t swing shut on him by accident. Bobby climbed in slowly, and then waited in silence as Alex did up the seatbelt. Once she’d stepped away, Deakins moved in to speak briefly to him.

“I might come by tomorrow afternoon to see how you’re doing, Bobby, okay?”

Bobby nodded wordlessly. He was feeling embarrassed yet again by all the attention that was focused on him, and he wished vehemently that Alex would just get in, so that they could go. Sensing his growing discomfort, Alex decided it was time to take charge, and marched around to the driver’s side of the vehicle.

“Okay, it’s high time I got this boy home. I think he’s had enough pomp and fanfare for one day.”

Bobby’s cheeks flushed slightly red at her words, but nor could he hide the small smile that curled up the corners of his mouth at her attitude. Deakins chuckled softly, taking the hint and stepping away from the SUV.

“Okay. Get going, you two. Alex, I’ll talk to you about coming back to work when I come around tomorrow.”

Alex nodded and, without wasting anymore time, she guided the car back out onto the road, to begin the journey home.

“How are you feeling?” she asked quietly, once they were away from the hospital. Bobby hesitated in answering. She was talking about more than how he felt physically, and he wasn’t sure he could put it into words.

“Nervous,” he said finally, simply. Alex nodded. She could understand that.

“Jo’s already at the apartment,” she said, switching subjects smoothly. Bobby’s head turned towards her just slightly at the mention of the home care nurse that had been employed to assist with taking care of him.

“I didn’t think she was going to be there until tomorrow.”

“She wasn’t supposed to be, but she thought it might be easier on us both if she was there tonight. She said it’s no extra charge. It’s on her.”

Bobby sighed softly, relieved. He’d been worried for the last week about how he was going to manage the first night at Alex’s apartment, with it being just the two of them. He really hadn’t looked forward to needing Alex’s help to get changed into his pyjamas… or to use the bathroom. Knowing that Jo was there took a tremendous load off his mind.

“Is… Is your dad really… cooking up a storm?”

Alex smiled faintly.

“Unfortunately, I think he is. But don’t worry. He’s not going to be insulted if you can’t eat very much. He just wanted to make sure you weren’t coming home to plain old soup and toast which, as you well know, is my specialty after TV dinners.”

Bobby’s smile widened a little, and Alex gave a silent cheer. He smiled so rarely anymore, that it was a real victory to get a genuine one out of him.

“I… wouldn’t have minded.”

“What? Soup and toast? Or a TV dinner?”


She snorted.

“Are you kidding me, Bobby? Dad would’ve drawn and quartered me. You can’t imagine the argument I had with him over it. I should’ve known better, actually. Never get into an argument with my dad.”

He laughed softly, then, and Alex felt her own face light up in response.

“Anyway,” she went on, “I promise you won’t have to deal with the whole family. At least, not tonight. Mom was going to bring the food over, though, so be prepared for her to fuss over you. I tried to tell her that she didn’t have to be there when we get home, but she insisted.”

Bobby smiled somewhat wistfully.

“I don’t mind. I like your mom.”

Alex caught the look on his face, and mentally kicked herself for bringing up the subject. Bobby’s own mother had not been back to see him since that day in the hospital, and apparently she had suffered a fairly bad episode just a day or two after visiting her son. The stress of knowing that her elder son had played a big part in Bobby’s assault had been simply too much for her to cope with in the end. According to what Dr Shimo had told Deakins, by the time she came out of the episode, she’d effectively erased all memory of what had happened to Bobby from her mind. When Bobby had called her with the aid of a speaker phone, the day that he was moved out of the ICU wing and into a regular ward, she had placidly asked when he was coming to visit her next and it had been all Bobby could do to keep his voice even as he told her gently that it might be a while.

“It’s okay, Alex,” he said suddenly, startling her out of her reverie. She pulled a face.

“Am I that transparent?”

“Only to me,” he teased lightly, and Alex laughed.

“Okay, then. I can live with that.”

“Seriously, though, it’s okay. Your mom, I mean. But… it will be only her, won’t it? No one else?”

Alex nodded, and then spoke quickly as she reminded herself that he couldn’t see her nodding.

“No one else, Bobby. I promise.”

Alex’s stomach was in knots for the rest of the trip home. After reassuring Bobby that he would only have to cope with her mother, it suddenly occurred to her that she couldn’t guarantee that half of her family wouldn’t have turned up to welcome him home. She hoped and prayed that they would have all shown some consideration and stayed away, but she had no assurance that they actually would.

Her relief was palpable when she finally opened the door of her apartment to find only her mother and Jo Reilly, the home care nurse, waiting for them.

“Bobby, sweetheart, welcome home,” Helen Eames greeted him as Alex guided him through the door. She smiled reassuringly at her daughter as she gently took his arm and led him over to the large armchair that John and Philip had brought around to Alex’s apartment two days ago.

Somewhere for the lad to sit, John had stated firmly when Alex had expressed some doubt. He’s not going to want to be lying in bed all day, everyday. Not healthy for him.

Alex had quickly given up trying to argue. Once her father got an idea into his head, that was the end of it. She had to admit, though, as she watched Bobby settle into the large, comfortable chair, that it had been a damned good idea.

She deposited the small bag that held Bobby’s few belongings in his room, and then re-emerged to find her mother fussing over Bobby, just as predicted.

“Hope you gave him fair warning to expect this,” Jo said in a low voice, a wry smile on her face. Alex chuckled softly.

“It would have been cruel not to.”

“How is he?” Jo asked, her smile fading as she observed her new charge.

“As good as can be expected,” Alex murmured. “He’s happy to be out of the hospital, but it hurts him that he doesn’t have a home of his own to go back to.”

“He’s definitely going to go ahead with selling his apartment, then?”

“I don’t think there was ever any other option. He can’t go back there. He couldn’t cope with it.”

Jo leaned back against the doorframe.

“Everything’s going to hurt for a long time, Alex. Inside and out. All we can do is make sure he knows he doesn’t have deal with it alone.”

“That’s what worries me,” Alex said ruefully. She elaborated when Jo looked at her, puzzled. “Bobby has always been a very solitary person. It’s not easy for him to accept help under ordinary circumstances. This is just about killing him, having to be so completely dependent on others. If anything, he’s likely to keep his emotional pain to himself specifically because he has no physical independence.”

“It’s going to be tough,” Jo agreed quietly. “We’ll get there, though. We just have to be patient with him. That’s the key. Patience, and a lot of it.”

“All right,” Helen announced abruptly. “Enough chatter, you two. If you let dinner get cold, John will never let me hear the end of it.”

“I… I’m not really hungry,” Bobby ventured, but Helen brushed off his words.

“Nonsense. I know what hospital food is like. After more than a month of that, you ought to be nearly frantic for something decent. Now, come on. Up to the table with you.”

“Mom!” Alex protested on behalf of her partner. “Give him a break. I agree that he needs to eat something, but he can stay right where he is.” She strode past her mother, and crouched down beside him. “Bobby, are you comfortable there?”

He hesitated in answering. Yes, he was comfortable right at the moment, but it had been a while since he’d had any of his pain meds, and his hands were starting to hurt. A lot.

“Which is it,” Alex asked, “hands or eyes?”

“Hands,” he answered, a barely noticeable tremor to his voice. Jo acted promptly, picking up the bag which contained all of Bobby’s medications. Finding the right bottle, she brought a single small pill over to him, along with a water bottle with a straw.

“Open up,” she instructed him, her voice taking on a definite no-nonsense tone. He complied meekly, and she slipped the pill into his mouth, followed by the straw. He sipped at the water, and swallowed the pill with a small sigh of relief.

“I’m sorry,” he said in a soft, miserable voice as Jo took the bottle away. “I… I really don’t think I can eat anything right now.”

“It’s okay,” Helen reassured him. “It’ll keep, honey. Meanwhile, I’d better get going. Bobby, sweetheart, if there’s anything at all that you want, you tell Alex, and she’ll let me know. All right?”

Bobby mumbled a quick thankyou, not quite sure how to react to Helen Eames’ generosity and maternal concern. The elderly woman smiled sadly and, before Alex could stop her, leaned down to kiss him gently on the top of his head.

How Bobby kept himself from lashing out, Alex would never know. As it was, he stiffened noticeably at the unexpected touch, his body going rigid in the chair. Helen drew back abruptly, first looking startled, and then regretful. To Alex’s quiet relief, though, she didn’t shame Bobby further by trying to apologise to him. Instead, she squeezed his shoulder reassuringly, gave her daughter a fierce hug and then quietly let herself out.

“I… I’m sorry,” Bobby whispered after the door had swung shut.

“Don’t apologise,” Alex told him. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, Bobby. Just tell us, what do you want to do?”

He drew in a shuddering breath. He hadn’t imagined it would be so emotionally draining to actually leave the hospital.

“I think… I’d like to go to bed.”

Alex nodded in understanding and sympathy.

“Okay, Bobby.”

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